Review: The Graveyard Book

The care of the living for the dead and the dead for the living

It’s a pretty grand theme and is nothing less than one of the notions behind Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I finished it recently. I think I like both this and Coraline better than American Gods, all three of which are high concept novels about worlds and the beings who slip between them, with American Gods being adult fiction.

I like Bod and I like how characters were introduced through inscriptions. I appreciated how he changed and struggled with his world – and the world beyond. Miss Lupescu is obvious in her depiction, but Silas is strangely difficult to decipher. There is a tragic arc to the story of Scarlet that was deftly achieved, and I missed entirely the point of Mr Frost until it became overt.

Depictions of place were effective, particularly of the graveyard itself, even if exactly how Bod lived is less detailed. There is a danger that this book and others (more of which down further) romanticises nature, without clearly understanding it.

The barrow sequences were especially charged and fraught and presented a neat narrative circularity that showed how Bod and Scarlet developed. I like the bind that the Jacks were forced into by their own actions: by seeking to prevent their prophecy they enable its fulfilment. But I want this to signify something. Bod was special, but coming of age meant he left this behind and I am deeply unhappy with that. He mastered something no one had before and in the end….pfft.

I also want more *something* regarding the dance. In its effect it was a little reminiscent of the chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn from the Wind in the Willows, whereby Portly is saved by a demigod, but for the animals to survive this experience of the numinous, they must forget. But why the dance?

In fact, most of the characters had this reluctance to confront issues or explain events to Bod (and thus to me) and this is intensely frustrating. This is exacerbated by the emotionally climatic ending. Yet Bod deserves a sequel. It would great to see him as an adult reunited with the ghosts of his past, as they ever were. It would be interesting to see him attempt to defend Silas.

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War baby?

Basically, everything I didn’t like had to do with what was missed out or skipped. The Graveyard Book suffers from The Hobbit syndrome, whereby both Tolkien and Gaiman  make narrative decisions about how to present the action outside of the main character’s awareness. In both cases, because of the intended audience and because of space or time, battle scenes are perfunctorily described, even as they deal with the death of important characters that shape the plot. None of these characters deserve this in-passing treatment.

This annoys me. If annoyed me as a kid and it annoys me now. If writers are going to dare enough to invent worlds that feature murder and battles and present these as suitable for kids I think they can be a little more…honest.  In the world, kids endure wars and I don’t know, broken homes or even the occasional dose of news on TV, so I think they can cope with a couple of fictional accounts of battle scenes between monsters and heroes.

Kids can and do read stuff they are too old for, and can and do stop reading what they can’t cope with. I know I did. Plus parents edit their kids reading all the time.

To be fair, Gaiman addresses the first driver of the plot well. It was tense, eerie and menacing without being gory. But then, later, I believe he did the Honour Guard a disservice by not describing them, their roles and their sacrifices more completely. Too much was hinted at and like the ghosts themselves, not enough became solid.

For all my criticisms I think this was a better realised world than American Gods. I’ve never thought of cemeteries as particularly negative spaces. If you think about it, the suffering of those buried there happened elsewhere (mostly) and this is true for Nobody Owens.

Boundaries

Gaiman was inspired by the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, where a boy is raised by animals. Philosophically, Gaiman, and David Malouf in An Imaginary Life, correlate childhood to a state where not only the human brain is more malleable but more attune to subtle worlds: with Malouf it’s nature; with Gaiman it’s the supernatural.

Both authors build into their narratives assumptions about how growing up means abandoning these for the ‘real world’. A part of me sees how this works. As we grow up we become, generally, more ‘fixed’ in our personalities, our likes and dislikes and in our ideas about how ‘reality’ works. Malouf demonstrates with Ovid that this certainty is most vulnerable when humans are at the edge of what they know – in terms of living and dying and in terms of civilisation.

The rest of me abhors and rejects this entirely. I loathe this as a trope. I want some author to examine why this is so or to offer an alternative where Bod can be what he was and be an adult, for instance. As a writer I strive to ensure I hang onto a sense of wonder. I want to explore boundaries. Writing is treating the imagination as real. What I imagine manifests, alchemically, as a story and then exists independently as a thing, sometimes even as a physical item, in the world. A story transgresses boundaries. It is magic. It is maybe the only magic we have left.

I will never stop believing in it.

So why can’t some characters?

Outsiders

Literature is littered with instances of the outsider: god/being/person who exists on the borders or has special connections to nature or the gods. Literature, mostly, is concerned with how they (and therefore the rest of us) lose this connection and pick a side. This dates to the wild man Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh whose affinity for animals and nature was lost after a week with Shamhat, Temple Prostitute.  This particular idea ricochets through literature for 4000 years +. Gaiman hints at it. A part of Bod growing up is about understanding and losing Scarlet and Liza. If he had written it for adults this may have become more overt.

It’s problematic too, women repeatedly depicted as vessels of civilisation. Or corrupters of ‘natural’ men, inducting them into the realm of domesticity or life and death, where men and women are both ‘impure’ – divorced from nature (or the dead or the numinous). It assumes women are always responsible for men’s ‘fall from grace’ – a la Adam and Eve. The exceptions are Liza, the witch and Miss Lupescu who are both free to cross borders – in and out of civilisation and beyond the grave. Liza is a witch – a (perceived) transgressor of social and religious norms, even in death. Miss Lupescu is a different order of being. As a teacher (and ‘foreigner’) she passes through the world, but never belongs to it. So that is where women end up: if they are not Eve (Scarlet), they are exiles, like Liza or not even human, like Miss Lupescu.

Life/Death

If Gaiman is interested at the beginning of this process with Bod as a baby. Malouf is interested in the possibility of a return in older age. His Ovid, after trying to teach his Wild Child, eventually accepts the Child as teacher. This enables Ovid to properly cross the border between Roman civilisation and the unknown wilds. He learns that he is not exiled to a Roman outpost, but is entering another world –  one we all must enter in the end.

Romanticised nature, nature as a realm we lose as we enter adulthood - for how much longer do require these ideas.

Romanticised nature, nature as a realm we lose as we enter adulthood – for how much longer do require these ideas?

 

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Optical delusions

A few weeks ago I posted about art. Admitting I could only see what I couldn’t get ‘right,’ I felt, for a long time, art was something I let down, due some mysterious defect. This attitude limits not only what I think I can do, but what I attempt. Basically, if I don’t try, then I’m safe from failure, of which I am intimately acquainted. It stings a bit.

It’s funny how I think that way about art, but I could paint before I could read and being late to that game never prevented me from thinking I couldn’t invent stories. Should know better, shouldn’t I? If a story-teller is not limited by illiteracy, should an artist be similarly limited?

Maybe writing is something to hide behind. Authors speak through narration, whereby the story is told by a constructed authorial voice, which is a performance. There is thus distance between reader and writer. Art seems more personal or immediate. My hands, my pencils on the paper, my eye. Is there less artifice in art, even with more technology? I used to draw faces and got sick of being asked so who’s that then? I didn’t have an answer. It turns out inventing characters is easier.

It’s not just that there was the pressure of inheritance. My mother had a talent. Under utilised and only somewhat recognised late in her short life, but still. She had ‘it’.

For a thimbleful of what she had.

Yet, for all her ability, my mother lacked confidence and worried formal study was needed to lend legitimacy to her works. What I know now, after all the qualifications I have, is that some people are qualified anyway. I wish I could tell her that.

Never mind.

It was in the spirit of casting aside limited thinking, and reconciling past ambitions with my own abilities that I went to an art lesson. Also, I will always be a sucker for a class and this two-hour gig at the Abbotsford Convent looked the ticket.

I went in noting it was advertised as something anyone could do.

So I did.

If you don’t buy into the Zentangle vibe that’s ok, because I’d never heard of it before. The point is, this class was fun, and what you need to be able to take part is minimal. At the very least the requirements are paper, fine point pen, pencil, and tortillon (paper smudge stick).

It’s about doodling with meditative intent. Yet that does it a disservice, the patterns are mesmerising and even simple ones become quite interesting, because of the repetition and shading. It means some have a 3D look. Even a casual visit to Pintrest reveals the quality they can achieve.

Zentangle by me. An early effort.

Zentangle by me. An early effort. Nice if  you squint a bit.

What I liked about the class was there was an emphasis on the fact there is no wrong. There is no eraser. It’s not about replicating the work of someone else, or replicating lifelike structures. We didn’t see what we were ‘aiming for’, just given instructions, and in following them as we each could, got to a point that revealed itself to be a thing. A complex, abstract thing, each the same and each unique.

I am the sort of person who loves to spot a pattern. Even when my phone takes a photo when I'm not looking.

If  you’ve read this blog, you’ll know I’m the sort of person who loves to spot a pattern. Even when my phone takes a photo when I’m not looking.

This kind of doodling is something probably we’ve all done, on the phone maybe. Now a couple of Americans have formalised it, put a philosophy behind it, named and branded it and constituted a course for teachers. It’s now a movement. This is both odd and cheering – capitalistic and hippie. For once, I don’t feel like I’ve been duped by a sales pitch.

Regardless of whether you buy into the philosophy, the class was successful in that because no one left feeling like art was foreign or impossible, or what they were wrong. Somehow, this zentangle enables. It’s both pointless and pointed. Nothing needs to be done with what you create, or as some have done, you can build a career out of it. It can be a casual stress reliever or a passion. I’m yet to decide, but I can see the possibilities in it for a writer.

In the end what our teacher magically got us to do, deliberately and simply, was to break down the ‘I can’t’ barriers. Just by expecting us to follow her.

I’m glad I did.

Patterns from long ago, seen in a new light.

My patterns from long ago, seen in a new light.

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Ain’t no Xmas like a Doctor Who Xmas

Thought there was no more Doctor Who til Christmas? There is a lil bit. The Children in Need Special. This particular one is more of a preview for the Christmas Special than a short stand alone. The only thing it proves is that it’s obvious Clara Oswald isn’t quite gone. And that Father Christmas is real. But we all knew that didn’t we?

Representation of this blogger, bereft at the thought there is so long to wait for the next series of Doctor Who. Please excuse artistic licence.

Approximate representation of this blogger, bereft at the thought there is so long to wait for the next series of Doctor Who. Please excuse the artistic licence taken in this rendering

If this series was all about the big Science Fiction ideas with a modicum of Doctor regen development and back story in addition to heart warming heroics (thanks to Danny), then 2014 the next series can be anything it wants to be. Victorian Gothic, or fairy tale, or horror or urban fantasy. Whatever it likes.

I’m more interested in where the writing takes The Doctor in terms of his development. Peter Capaldi is a great actor, but what he’s being made to say and do meant it has been an uneven ride from a bit mad and broken to a lot mean, a touch confused and then fixed. I could stand to see him a little less nasty in future, and also in the past and present.

Until then, there will be other things to write about.

I mean there will, won’t there?

Yes. Of course. Absolutely. Don’t look so worried.

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Doctor Who: Relative Heroes

With Death in Heaven and Interstellar I’ve been thinking about relativity and time, cycles, and returns, and death and how these are represented in narrative.

Then I remembered Buddhism.

Ouroboros 

To be Buddhist is to be awake to reality. It occurs to me that to be in suspended animation sleep to cross space is like being a ‘normal person’ and those who cross the threshold (through a wormhole, through a black hole) perceive a different reality and are thus Awake. Maybe.

Any who, in Buddhist practice, Bodhisattvas are beings who sacrifice Nirvana to return to bring enlightenment to others and ease the suffering of the world through their efforts.

SHANTIDEVA: For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.

You could apply the above line by Shantideva to The Doctor. With each of his endless lives rejecting the annihilation of Self, he remains immured in his ever-changing but same self-hood, travelling across all of time and space to save the universe and its various miserable inhabitants. In this way, he is the embodiment of the Bodhisattva mission.

He is also an ascetic in that while he appreciates the finer things of the world (everything from lolly ball bearings to jelly beans) he has little attachment to them. He rarely sleeps, and we seldom see him eat or even rest.

Almost every moment he is awake to possibilities – even when he dreams.

THE DOCTOR: Clara sometimes asks me if I dream. “Of course I dream”, I tell her. “Everybody dreams”. “But what do you dream about?”, she’ll ask. “The same thing everybody dreams about”, I tell her. “I dream about where I’m going.” She always laughs at that. “But you’re not going anywhere, you’re just wandering about.” That’s not true. Not any more. I have a new destination. My journey is the same as yours, the same as anyone’s. It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes, but at last I know where I’m going. Where I’ve always been going. Home. The long way around.

You can see it a bit in Cooper too, in Interstellar, a man who transcends time and space, repeating his mission of rescue over more than one lifetime (in his sleep, on his journeys, and in the black hole).

And their journey is always to home. The long way ’round.

While The Doctor is certainly not a perfected being, what with the casualties of his adventures, his temper and disdain for so many people and their rules, his eyes are always on the greater good and his phenomenal powers and authority do put him a category beyond human.

Lonely God

Of course this risks The Doctor seeing himself as a god and he has battled the dangers of believing this before. In Waters of Mars for instance he is willing to make the rules of the universe obey him. Later, in End of Time Part II, he admits to Wilf that that path is the way of The Master, who seeks to dominate others through force, fear and mental guile.

The Doctor also risks being worshipped by others as Amitabha Buddha. This is the Buddha whose existence is efficacious to followers through prayer or petition rather than personal effort. While his companions (followers) can benefit from The Doctor’s presence and his kindness, and do seek favours, they suffer too and undergo their own tests and trials.

He could also be considered Shiva. The Doctor is a Yogi, but also a husband and parent, he is a destroyer and creator. He slays demons (Daleks) and is also a patron of the Arts (the Great Curator – in The Day of the Doctor). But like any god/hero, his qualities make him like, and unlike all of them.

The Followers

Most of the companions who really understand his complexity would never worship The Doctor. Or if they do, like Amy, they are cured of it for their own salvation (as in The God Complex). It is interesting too how their experiences change them. Some are saved and learn to save others (Rose and Mickey), some suffer (Martha) some are embittered (Sarah-Jane), some forget (Donna) and some are transformed so utterly they are no longer the people they were (Amy and Rory) before The Doctor. I have no conclusion for Clara. I think of all of them she is the most Doctor-like, even compared to Donna. Donna was situated as to be ‘dosed’ with The Doctor, Clara was taught.

With our thoughts we shape the world

The TARDIS is a bio-mechanical representation of relativity and quantum mechanics folded up and accessible in three-dimensional space. It is also a part of The Doctor. They share a connection, it is only truly alive when The Doctor is conscious (The Christmas Invasion). But it travels (mostly) beyond language and the everyday world. It works because it has a will of its own that is coeval to The Doctor’s existence. Thus, it takes him where he needs to be, rather than where he wants to be or intends to go (The Doctor’s Wife).

It is, in some ways, analogous to the body, which is a vehicle for the will but also subject to laws the mind (if such a thing exists) doesn’t always understand. Just as the mind shapes the body and the experience of the physical world shapes the mind, so are The Doctor and his Tardis. You can’t have one without the other, because they are not Other to each other (if you follow).

See I told you: The Meditating Stick Insect Ascetic.

See I told you: The Meditating Stick Insect Ascetic.

 

Via Negativa

If The Doctor is a Bodhisattva, what is The Master? He embodies samsara, the endless flow of life, which is why he never really dies and also why he never masters himself. Depending on the tradition samsara can be seen as negative, or inevitable, or neutral. Mostly though samsara and The Master are, like Monkey (from Monkey Magic) and Loki irrepressible, mischievous and difficult to control and understand.

The Master is full of ego and suffering and mundane things like desiring power over other people, but like The Doctor sees temporal existence for what it is and acknowledges, on good days, that there is more to it than his/her caprice.

 Karma chameleon

What about Danny Pink’s sacrifice? He is not quite the Bodhisattva The Doctor is; Danny represents more closely a different kind of Buddhist. He returned from the dead, yes, and then had the chance to have his entire life back, complete with his unresolved warrior guilt and girlfriend. He rejects this return to samsaric suffering because this sacrifice extinguishes his karma. He can return the boy he mistakenly killed and transcend his Self, dying free of guilt – or live as the person he was. Through his choice of renunciation, he escapes the wheel of birth and rebirth. It is by this effort that he embodies the path of the Paccekabuddha – one who dwells alone in his enlightenment and the one who doesn’t return from it.

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Ode to the Joy

Of course a Bodhisattva like The Doctor would meet Santa, who symbolises Coca Cola sure. But more importantly, embodies the spirit of joy whose annual return celebrates the hope of life (spring) in the middle of darkness (winter). These notions of life returning predate our known stories of such avatars as Jesus and Buddha because they represent all of life itself, this giant ball of life we live and die on, constantly recycling itself to gift more life.

The Astronauts of the Endurance, especially Cooper, through their experience of time, use the laws of relativity and gravity as tools to transcend their limited three-dimensional state to direct the fate of the Earth. If nothing else, that is the one big cool idea of the film.

If you like, as a Timelord, ie one who calibrates time through his understanding of the nature of the universe, The Doctor is the Lord of the Seasons. In this aspect, he represents knowledge of the laws that keep the moon and the stars and the turn of the worlds in balance. His existence rights the world just as Father Christmas’ cheers it.

 

Hopefully more will be right and cheerful, come the Christmas Special.

 

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Doctor Who: Role Play

Upon watching the 2014 finale of Doctor Who I’ve never been so happy to have Nick Frost appear. He was the ray of weird that lifted Death in Heaven from being one of helluva Halloweeen-ish downer episode to something a tiny bit hopeful.

In a future episode Missy puts out all the stars with The Doctor's sonic screwdriver.

In a future episode Missy puts out all the stars with The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.

Character assassin

If previous series were about fairy tales, this series was solid SF ideas and the construction of identity and roles. When a person changes so completely (physically and in terms of personality) it opens up room to question how like The Doctor can this new person remain, while being so different. Of course Missy presents the same question too and indeed I think she answers it. Yes she is Missy, but she is also completely The Master.

This series The Doctor has spent a lot of time wondering what type of person he is and asking others who he is. Is he good, is he bad, does he care? In this episode he finally makes up his mind. It doesn’t matter who he commands, or what people think he is. Be it general or a president, Dalek or hero, The Doctor realises he is who he has always been: a madman in a box.

Phew.

Despite the continued lies to Clara and justifiable anger over Missy and Gallifrey, hopefully now he is over his identity/psychological uncertainty crisis.  Forget who, now it should be onto finding out …why the face…

Clara was magnificent. Her character spent the episode proving again that she learned her lessons. She is no longer Soufflé Girl, no longer a nanny or the teacher Miss Oswald, but a graduate. She has completed her Companion Apprenticeship and can be The Doctor at will.

The key is that as a character, first pretending to be The Doctor and then taking on his tasks (lying, running around, making big speeches, using technology, and sacrificing someone she loves) throughout she remains emotionally raw and honest – grieving and angry and hurt.

About Danny

When you take a hero, give him heroic attributes, and add a touch of thoughtfulness gained through tragedy, you have Danny Pink. Of course he was too always too good to live. But he also too good to let go as a character.

Danny’s arc from troubled soldier, to bashful but heroic teacher to Commander of the Dead and saviour of the Earth, was powerful and yeah, heroic. But his forfeiture of return to gain redemption through his final personal sacrifice….was beautiful and tragic and entirely foreseeable. The plot made his death and experiences make narrative sense, while his refusal to return righted his wrong. It is almost too perfect in its symmetry and  too, too sad for Clara. And me.

Adding to this vale of tears was the return of the Brigadier, who saved his daughter. For viewers of the earlier series it meant so many more tears. And he gets the salute he deserved.

The one character who had even more work to do was Missy. She had to fulfil her plans, wind up plot questions, explain her goal to everyone else and part take in a show down.

Distress Mistress 

The Doctor and Missy manage to eclipse the world around them as they sparred, like they always did, and in an entirely new way and it will be interesting to see what happens next…

With all the work Missy was doing she was mesmerising. As the Mary Poppins stuff became more overt she became more diabolical and menacing in a ludicrous over-the-top way with her refrain of ‘say something nice’.

In terms of the plot. For all The Master’s bombast and theatricality, all this character ever wants is attention. All the armies she gathers, all the people she kills and deceptions completed are the culmination of plans that are but the ravings of a very powerful and sick individual. She possesses all the brilliance of The Doctor and all the self-control and propriety of a toddler with an ear infection on a Boeing 747 20,000 feet up and coming in to land.

Basically, once again, this attempt at attention grabbing is not about the power, or even the dead, but the relationship and the comparisons and contrasts between The Doctor and The Master….who just wants a play mate during her drive to conquer the universe.

And for the love of crikey every time  anyone captures The Master can they 1) search her for weapons and technology and 2) continually ensure she is secure?

So, so tired of her killing characters that show promise out of a lack of basic bad guy control protocols. It’s lazy writing. Either don’t capture her, or make her escape more Houdini-like or compel her to help.

Story Synchronicity

JACKIE: You’re always doing this. Reducing it to science. Why can’t it be real? Just think of it, though. All the people we’ve lost. Our families coming back home. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?
DOCTOR: I think it’s horrific. Rose, give us a hand.

So this story involves Cybermen and the dead. Basically this is Jackie Tyler’s notion of the dead returning realised. It is as horrific as it seemed then to The Doctor. Only, being a family program we’re spared most of the gruesome.

As in that Army of Ghosts The Doctor is kidnapped and held as a prisoner, only this time by UNIT instead of Torchwood. The idea of The Doctor’s horror at the return of the dead is also heightened by the ability of The Master to evade death and by the mere mention of the ‘resurrection’ of Gallifrey and what that could signify.

As a story, although it ends with how Clara leaves (?), it’s actually about the loss of Danny. Just as Army of Ghosts was about Rose’s supposed death, this episode is about how Danny lived and died and lived and died. Each episode too, explores the role of Rose and Danny and their relationships and how The Doctor changes people. Both Rose and Danny cross thresholds they are not meant to come back from. Rose, into Pete’s World and Danny from death and the Nethersphere. For both too, despite being given the grace for a final good-bye (via dream messages) in similar circumstances, in the end, there is no return.

ROSE/DANNY: But then came the army of the dead ghosts. Then came Torchwood UNIT and the war cyber rain. And that’s when it all ended. This is the story of how I died.

You can call this narrative cannibalism if you like, or thematic symbiosis, but this is a continuing story whose tendrils don’t need to obey the usual temporality of one damned unrelated thing after another. After all, the snake devouring its tail is an ancient symbol.

More on that next time:)

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Interesting Interstellar

This will be a quick-ish review. Or just some thoughts really about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. If you want to see it I recommend finding a big screen. The score is good too.

My first thought is this is how the crew of Prometheus should have behaved. Like professionals and experts.

The cast was good. Especially the kids. The relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murphy is a highlight, which I was pleasantly surprised by. Matthew McConaughey is well supported by among others, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, and David Gyasi, who seemed familiar then I realised he was in the episode of Doctor Who called Asylum of the Daleks.

The robots were pitch perfect. Just the right combination of clearly ahead of time in terms of design and function, coupled with humour and call backs to films like Alien (in terms of interfaces with the writing on screens). Their ‘journeys’ as characters were as #rightinthefeels as any of the other characters.

I sometimes think audiences are captivated by Nolan’s films, including Memento, The Prestige, Inception and the Dark Knight films. You can feel the quality in the production, in the sound quality, in the score, in the visuals and he gives actors enough to do. There’s emotional depth, especially in this film. All of them are made by someone who really loves what cameras and old and new technology can throw up on screens.

And yet.

I wonder if there is enough meat on the bones of these films to speak to us in a decade or more, or whether they warrant deeper consideration.

Nolan and his production team are interested in time and memory and space and the nature of identity and obsession, that’s clear from all of his stories. First and foremost though, they are films that are experiences. Ones that throw the audience into Nolan Space, for a long journey. This film, especially, was immersive, with the take off from Earth, the wormhole sequence and other in flight sequences I won’t spoil being particularly effective. There was plenty to feel.

Quick sketch of Saturn as the Endurance flies by.

Quick sketch of Saturn as the Endurance flies by.

However, like the mist of your breath on a window pane, Nolan’s films indicates important processes happened, but this dissipates quickly once you emerge blinking into the day out of the cocoon of the cinema.

The feeling it gives is too easily overcome by…life. Do I want too much from a pretty good film? It’s a few hours later and I wonder how much I’ve been left to think about and whether it’s just me.

Artist's rendition of Earth 2.0

Artist’s rendition of Earth 2.0

Stuff to think about

I disagree with the repeated tenet of the film, that we are from Earth but we are not meant to die here.

There were references to the environmental and health impacts of the American dust bowl drought of the 1930s as well as the Irish potato famine, and commentary on defeatism in the face clearly massive changes in ecosystems and climates. It brought back memories of the 1983 dust storm.

There was science, of course, with Kip Thorne’s influence on the physics of space flight and black holes and worm holes evident. They had characters solving problems, rather than running around stupidly (vis a vie Prometheus).

There were enough psychological issues to consider regarding the difficulty of humans dealing with the implications of relativity and travel through space/time.

In the end, what I’m left with is that love is what drives us to cross space.

If there are comparisons to be made, yep, it had plenty of references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was more circular. Perhaps Jodie Foster’s Contact comes closest thematically, with Foster’s character represented by Murphy. All that space, all that distance, and what humans really do, is go out to meet ourselves. And carry all the darkness and love with us.

I think’s it’s a similar message to that which Mal taught River:

I think it’s enough. For now.

 

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Be the Hero?

The new Hobbit trailer is out, partly because of this, and because of The Hobbit fan competition, and Halloween and ‘cons’ I’ve been thinking about the fan phenomenon.

As The Doctor explained to Charles Dickens it’s about fanaticism. I was going to say such devotion is usually motivated out of a deep appreciation or love, but humans demonstrate fanaticism can spring from any source. Fanaticism can lead you down a road full of treachery, it can leach you of your will, your finances, you individuality and perhaps even your life. It might depend on what or who you are fanatical about. Or, it can be an enriching experience of belonging and discovery.

(Getting to the point where writing fanatic looks wrong…like saying giraffe so often you forget what the word means.)

Anyway, if you admire and understand the works of say Prof Tolkien then there is some hope it might lead you to a life affirming place. His overarching themes involve showing that individuals matter, and while evil and melancholy exist in the world, so does a great many delights and wonders.

Life may end, Tolkien has Aragorn say, but beyond is more than memory.  To take in Tolkien’s world you partake in a kind of faith, not in an organised religion, or god, but in a ‘hope beyond hope’, in friendship, courage, and nobility of spirit.

In the end, the eagles always come.

Of course big media companies want people to invest, not just metaphorically, but monetarily. Tolkien, I feel, would be uncomfortable with his world becoming a brand. Mainly because he was writing myth and poetry, which are antithetical to advertising and business, which have legends and structures and purposes of their own.

So now, with billions spent on multi-media experiences, (films, games, rides, tours) fans of stories are legions of investors in cos play, replicas, toys, books, box sets, or are investing time in fan fic, debates, and fan films.

For people with even a slightly disposable income this is fun, and awesome and fun, and a whole lot easier than it once was. Once you had to go forge Sting yourself. Now you can buy it. And this is reassuring. Humans have always carried relics of what they have loved and celebrated the deeds of their heroes by re-enacting them.

Such relics, coupled with the technology that allows like-minded fans to find each other is something incomprehensible to young teen me, when it seemed I was the only person in the world who was reading the books I was reading.

However, the greatest fan is not the best cos player, or the one with all the box sets or books, or the one with all the toys and replicas. In the end they’re just stuff. Lovely, fun stuff, and mostly stuff I wonder why I covet, but just stuff.

Fans can start young.

Fans can start young.

What represents the ‘best’ or most authentic fan is that the ethos of the story informs the character of the person you become. I’m not saying such fans must speak Elvish or time travel like The Doctor. It’s about belief systems, and actions.

Remember BatKid? The sick boy who got to be the hero? A charity and a city helped him to be BatKid. All those people, in helping that one little boy, were acting out of kindness and a heroic ethos. They did so without need of praise, and without need of recompense. They were Bat Man.

 

The best kinds of stories are the ones that influence you for the better. Being a fan should be more about reflecting on the ways a great story has coloured your understanding of the world and of yourself, and less about than how much think you look like Thranduil or The Doctor. (Fabulous, I bet).

Can people be considered fanatics if their values don’t align with the things they love? Should it matter?

I’m not saying you have to go Kick Ass. Frodo and Sam demonstrate some saviours aren’t looking for a fight, even if a fight finds them. I’m suggesting that it would be nice if people were more interested in emulating the better parts of the ethics of their heroes, rather than the violence or outward manifestations of their obsessions.

Being a fan of Loki, Sherlock or say Peter Capaldi’s iteration of The Doctor is not a leave pass to be a bastard either. They have very particular motivations and reasons for how they act and their intentions should always be examined. If you think being mean encapsulates them, then perhaps you’re just using them to justify  your own limited thinking.

It costs you nothing to be kind, kind about your own enthusiasms and kind about other’s. And if you aren’t kind, there’s a meme for that.

If you can be <insert superhero name> be <that person>.

So being a fan isn’t limited to dressing up and doesn’t mean having all the toys. It means that until you attempt to consider others ahead of yourself, or sacrifice something for another, or to strive for justice, no matter how small, or develop your talent, you’re not even close to being a fan of <that big gorram hero>.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t let a motorist into the traffic or blocks the person with a single loaf of bread from going ahead of you in the supermarket queue, you’re not congruent with the things you might love.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. I have  days where I’m considerate and curious and creative, and less than heroic days too. But I try. I know which side I’m on, that of Wil Wheaton’s Law:

Don’t be a dick.

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